There will be a protest of the new war at 10 a.m. Tuesday in front of the White House. Some thoughts on the context of this latest decision to bomb yet another country are below.
Following a screening of Phil Donahue’s film Body of War in Washington, D.C., on Monday, during which the United States began illegally bombing Syria, Donahue engaged in an interesting exchange with one of those audience members who asks a question and a dozen follow-up questions.
Donahue had belittled drone pilots as sitting at desks with cups of coffee. This member of the audience shouted out that that was unfair, that drone pilots were often engaged in perfectly legitimate murders, and that drone pilots were serving their country just the same as the U.S. Army veteran who is the focus of the film.
The film and its director treat this Army veteran as having honorably served a worthy cause even while describing the war as unjustified and a horrible decision. So, if a ground troop in an immoral illegal war is to be thanked and honored, not just respected and sympathized with, why not thank and honor drone pilots?
Donahue’s response to this sort of logic was that the drone pilot is less brave.
At the end of an exchange on that theme, Donahue reached a conclusion that ranked various types of troops based on their levels of bravery, and possibly also of suffering. That last point ran into trouble, as the questioner pointed out the PTSD rates among drone pilots who do in fact sometimes see their victims more than do troops who are physically closer to the action.
But bravery remained standing at the end of the discussion as a contributor to the level of morality.
In my view, this is madness, as Bill Maher lost his job for pointing out. Nobody was braver or more immoral than the 911 terrorists. Bravery in a good cause is admirable. Bravery in an indifferent cause is aesthetically nice, but morally indifferent. And bravery in an evil cause is evil. I made this case to Donahue after the event, and he said that he actually agreed with me.
The idea that bravery redeems participation in evil is war-thinking. Participation in evil can be understood and sympathized with but not redeemed.
Another audience member on Monday evening pointed out something useful about U.S. polling: Americans believe that bombing Syria will make attacks on the United States more likely (indeed, experts agree and history seems to solidly confirm it) and at the very same time, Americans believe that Syria should be bombed.
A willingness to endanger one’s self and family and neighbors and millions of people in order to be tough is an irrational and apparently macho position.
This culture of machismo is not without humanity, but that humanity is horribly misinformed. We’re not told by the big corporate media about the 95% of deaths in U.S. wars that are the deaths of non-Americans.
The brilliant Peter Kuznick pointed out at Monday’s event that as states require women to watch movies about fetuses before having abortions, they could require people to watch Body of War before wars. I wish they would. It’s a powerful movie. But there’s been no Ludlow Amendment and people don’t get to vote on wars. And we’re now being sold a war on the claim that it won’t kill Americans. If we don’t acquire the knowledge that wars also kill non-Americans and that non-Americans matter, we’ll be susceptible to manipulation into the idea that a war is a character choice, a matter of expressing and demonstrating bravery.
Following discussion of the film on Monday, we heard stories of bravery in noble causes from five whistleblowers who had put their lives and welfare at risk to advance peace, justice, public safety, the rule of law, and honest government. Their names are Jesselyn Radack, Marsha Coleman-Adebayo, Thomas Drake, William Binney, and Kirk Wiebe. They talked about morality, not machismo. Here’s video of them in Baltimore on Sunday.
A sixth speaker on the topic of speaking out was Phil Donahue, who lost his job at MSNBC for dissenting from war fever in 2003. He heartily denounced the dishonesty and sycophancy of corporate media on Monday. He also came back to the topic of bravery, rightly pointing to the five panelists next to him as the highest examples of moral courage.
Now there’s a useful phrase:moral courage. Let’s celebrate only that kind.
I spoke at an event Monday morning at American U. at which I asked people to raise their hands if they thought war was good for us and character building, or if they thought some wars were necessary, or if they thought all war was unjustified. The crowd was roughly evenly split between the last two choices. Not a single person accepted the notion (popular 100 years back) that war is good for us. But this unscientific poll was conducted in a room of peace studies students and opponents of war. What would the whole U.S. public say?
After the event I spoke with Medea Benjamin about the just-begun bombing campaign, and she remarked, “This is exactly what ISIL wants. They’re trying to get the U.S. involved in a war. There are already U.S. troops in combat and this will mean more. We shouldn’t fall into the trap of another immoral and unwinnable war.”
Medea and I will be protesting this new war at 10 a.m. on Tuesday in front of the White House along with National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance. We encourage you to join us or to demonstrate locally. Your Congress members and Senators have fled Washington in order to pretend the blood is not on their hands. Take your message of peace to them where they can be found.